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Lynn Hummel: DIDOs — better than the Oscars

The 2014 Academy Awards are over. The Hollywood people have been patting one another on the back ever since 1929. This year was the 86th time. There are 24 award categories, including such mysteries as sound editing, makeup and hairstyling, original screenplay and original score. One category dropped way back in 1956 was best original story, presumably because the industry had run out of original stories. Obviously, Rocky V didn’t qualify. One of the movies nominated as best film of the year is “Gravity”. I heard whispers that a gravity award might be given for the most daring gown. Didn’t happen.

Everybody loves to give awards — the Golden Globes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars), the Heisman Trust (Heisman Trophy), the International Olympic Committee, The E.W. Scripps Company (Spelling Bee Awards) and this column.

 This will be the 10th year that our committee has named DIDO Award winners. DIDO is an acronym resulting from the words Day-In-Day-Out. It is awarded each year, not to the stars of Hollywood, or to the rich and famous, but to those who make our lives better, day in and day out by their positive, often thankless, performances behind the scenes. During the first eight years we recognized a shoe repair couple, a cheerful bakery lady, a once-in-a-lifetime secretary with a world class work ethic, technical college students, nursing home workers, railroad engineers, nightshift workers, teachers, and two-jobs workers among others. Last year we named hardware store clerks who know their stuff and give good advice, volunteer firemen and Bakken Formation oil workers in North Dakota.

When the Motion Picture folks award the Oscars, the winners are the result of secret ballots from 5,783 members of the Academy. The awards in this column (called the Dakota Kid or Pony Express, depending on which state you’re in) are based on only one vote, but we yield to no academy on the merits of our DIDO awards.

Here we go — the envelope please. The award this year goes to a diverse group I’ll call the bell ringers. That label comes from the volunteers who ring the bells at Salvation Army kettles each year. They help collect the money the Salvation Army needs to provide food, shelter and medical relief wherever wars, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters occur in the U.S., the Ukraine, Haiti or anywhere else around the world.

The bell ringers badge goes not only to the Salvation Army volunteers, but to all volunteers, big and little, worldwide and local. Name the physical and mental diseases that have affected members of your family: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, blindness, deafness, alcoholism, bipolar disorder... there is no end. For every one of those diseases, and all the rest, there is a group of passionate, hard-working volunteers out there ringing the bells, so to speak, to generate awareness and funds to fight those illnesses. They do it day in and day out. Hats off to all of them.

The volunteers in our own communities are countless. Some are organized, like the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, community clubs, sports boosters and the rest. Some are in churches and schools and some act individually. Who can count them — den mothers, room mothers, scout leaders, Campfire mothers, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Little League coaches and umpires, 4-H leaders, readers in school, visitors to the elderly, Sunday School teachers, ditch cleaners, sandbag stackers, Good Samaritans on the road, and more — they’re all ringing the bells. The bell ringers most appreciated are probably the friends and neighbors who come to your rescue with a spaghetti or meatball dinner to raise funds when you’re hit by an accident, disaster or medical crisis and the expenses threatened to swamp you. God bless them.

Not everybody applauds volunteers. Some time ago, an Austrian philosopher, Ivan Illich, known as a “maverick social critic” gave a major speech at a major meeting of the Conference of Inter-American Student Projects. In a biting, sarcastic delivery, Illich warned of the dangers of “do good” projects, especially in foreign countries. The speech was labeled “To Hell With Good Intentions” and listed hypocrisy, paternalism and pretentious attitudes as characteristics of these projects. He asked the question whether we improve the lives of the people we serve and cited the old Irish proverb: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

So be careful about volunteering — you may be called a pretentious person or a hypocrite. That’s the downside. The upside is that volunteers are the fiber that holds our communities together and save lives, feed the hungry, protect the homeless, clean ditches, repair broken bones and cure disease around the world. They do it day in and day out and they’re bell ringers. That’s why the DIDO award is a higher honor than an Oscar.